How to Refresh and Keep Going

In response to my “Causes of Burnout” post, an ace PressingPause reader wrote that the question is how to refresh and keep going.

Nine suggestions:

1) Resist deficit thinking by being intentional about students’ strengths. When I taught high school, I always made a conscious effort to attend student art exhibits, plays, sporting events. And I always left thinking, “What talent, dedication, effort, and academic potential if I tap into those things.”

2) Save notes of appreciation, thank you cards, whatever positive mementos you can. And journal about especially positive interactions and experiences. Sporadically revisit the notes, cards, and journal entries as a reminder of your effectiveness and the importance of your work.

3) Subvert zero-sum thinking about teaching excellence (e.g., your success takes away from mine) by consciously affirming your colleague’s efforts and acknowledging what they do particularly well. Help create positive faculty culture momentum.

4) If a colleague has traveled too far down the deficit thinking road, steer clear. If surrounded by goners, attend local teacher workshops and seminars in order to find and build relationships with more hopeful, supportive colleagues from other schools. Also join professional association’s list serves and blog discussions like this one.

5) Do whatever helps you create energy on a regular basis—spend time outdoors, walk, row, run, cycle, swim, practice yoga, pray or meditate, volunteer, cook healthy meals and prioritize family dinners, read something non-work related, pursue a non-work-related hobby.

6) Be vulnerable with whomever you’re closest to, share your successes/failures and hopes/dreams. Lean on them and let them support you.

7) Be intentional about scheduling events to look forward to, whether a Friday after school get together with with a few colleagues, a Saturday night dinner with a significant other, or a monthly weekend hike.

8) Unplug earlier in the evening, make like the Japanese and take a hot bath, and sleep as many hours as you know you need to be completely rested.

9) Create positive teacher-student professional momentum by continually improving your plans, your methods, and your assessment of student work.

Suggestions for number 10?

Mo Rest, Mo Clarity of Purpose

I almost always teach a course during my university’s J-term, but not this year. Even though the email stream hasn’t stopped, and I’m going in once a week, slowing down and writing at home has been wonderful.

During my last sabbatical I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were ever deepening levels of rest and renewal. I had assumed I’d reach a rest/renewal point of diminishing returns after a few weeks or months, but I didn’t. You know that Mase, Puff Daddy, The Notorious B.I.G. song on your iPod, Mo Money, Mo Problems . . .

. . . I’m working on one called Mo Rest, Mo Clarity of Purpose. I have the lyrics down, but I’m still perfecting the dance moves. No doubt it will set you back 1.29 once the new iTunes launches. 

Ever spun a light road bike wheel with a primo hub? With little effort it will spin and spin and spin. Takes a long time to come to a complete rest. I feel like a road bike wheel. I can’t say I’ve come to a complete stop, but I’m spinning more slowly than normal. The result is a fresh perspective on what’s most important. 

The single greatest cost of my modern-default pace of life is a loss of perspective on what’s most important over the medium and long-term. For me to think deeply about what’s most important in life, I need to stop spinning. The slower I spin, the more I ask questions about life purposes, the more I ask questions about life purposes, the more appreciative I am of the people around me and the more meaningful my actions.

I wonder why almost everything that’s written about overwork focuses on stress and physical health when the most damaging trade-off is a relative loss of perspective on the “bigger picture.” As a result of this break, I’ve been more perceptive of how we sometimes resist slowing down and thereby avoid questions about life purposes. 

If we watch enough television, read enough fluff, aimlessly surf the net, shop til’ we drop, bounce around Facebook, text and talk on cell phones long enough, we can avoid a question we’ve been highlighting at PLU: What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life? 

I need to be more intentional about unplugging each day to be more mindful of my life purposes and to rise above the tyranny of the urgent.